Members get unlimited access to all our most
valuable content long before the masses. Exclusive access to newly released gear and tech and entrepreneur secrets delivered to your inbox monthly. All free. No BS.

Mental Health Tracking is Growing in Popularity, But Don’t Believe Everything Your Phone Tells You, Researcher Cautions

Sailun Tires

Owen Chevalier among leading line-up of speakers at Congress 2024, Canada’s largest humanities and social sciences conference, taking place June 12-21

As the number of people seeking help for mental health services continues to rise in Canada, healthcare professionals need to keep a close eye on information patients are getting from their personal devices. With more wellness apps on the market — such as Apple’s State of Mind tracker released for the iPhone and Apple watch last fall — people are starting to trust what technology is telling them, and it could be putting them at risk.

That’s the message of Western University researcher Owen Chevalier, who is examining how the view of mental illness presented through various wellness technologies differs from scientific literature, and what that means for the patient-doctor relationship. 

“Psychiatrists are reporting that more people are coming into their offices with preconceived perceptions of a diagnosis and they increasingly find themselves in the position of either having to correct it or work within those assumptions,” said Chevalier, explaining that the apps give people a view of themselves based on algorithms designed to compare changes in state of mind to other factors like workout minutes, sleep, and exposure to sunlight, which may or may not be accurate based on a psychiatric reading of the situation.

“People are considering the software as an ‘expert’ that provides all of the data they need to draw conclusions, and it’s making it harder for mental health professionals to do their job,” he said.

Chevalier will be sharing his findings as a featured speaker at the upcoming Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Congress 2024), Canada’s largest academic gathering and one of the most comprehensive in the world, taking place June 12 to 21 in Montreal.

Billed as a leading conference on the critical conversations of our time, Congress 2024 — themed “Sustaining shared futures” — serves as a platform for the unveiling of thousands of research papers and presentations from social sciences and humanities experts worldwide. With more than 8,000 scholars, graduate students and practitioners expected to participate, the event focuses on what must be done to bring forth solutions for today and sustain the systems of tomorrow, with the goal of inspiring ideas, dialogue and action that create a more diverse, sustainable, democratic and just society. 

At Congress 2024, Chevalier will share what he sees as the biggest risks to mental wellness trackers, online communities and other emerging apps: overdiagnosis and the creation of a culture that relies on smart technology for healthcare. 

Whereas psychiatrists are often slow to make a diagnosis, carefully examining symptoms and asking targeted questions directed at working through complicated emotions and feelings, users of wellness platforms tend to be quick to diagnose themselves. It then becomes a part of their identity, which can make it harder to recover, explained Chevalier, a doctoral student in the Western philosophy department.

“You might hit a few symptoms on the checklist for a mental disorder, but that doesn’t mean you have it and everything that comes along with it,” he said. “Psychiatrists would ask things like ‘What’s causing you harm? What is causing you distress?’ and help you work through that in the absence of a diagnosis, because they know that being in a state of mental distress doesn’t always mean you have an illness.”

Owen Chevalier

When it comes to reliance on technology, Chevalier points to the disconnect that exists between mainstream psychiatric science, as presented in scientific literature and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and the kind of learning about mental illness that is taking place online. As an example, he points to a TikTok community of people with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that is sharing lived experiences and new symptoms faster than the scientific community can keep up. 

“Those symptoms are now considered mainstream symptoms online, but they’re not recognized in the manual and there’s been very little research on it,” he said. “If, over time, you develop a belief about that sort of thing and it’s wrong, small errors can get bigger.”

The goal of Chevalier’s research is to help psychiatrists figure out how people are using their devices to understand and learn about their mental health, and to help the public understand the risk involved when they trust the conclusion presented by their device as fact. 

“I want people to be aware that their own feelings are valid and that if they’re going to rely on technology, they need to learn how to weigh the evidence against reality,” he said. “Psychiatrists are certainly interested in having lived experience involved in psychiatric science, but they need to know where to draw the line.”

Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences in partnership with McGill University, Congress 2024 is sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Universities Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, University Affairs, Sage, and The Conversation Canada.

Registration – which includes 140+ keynote and open Congress sessions, with a virtual attendance option for many presentations – is $30. Visit to register for a community pass and access the program of events open to the public. 


Get the latest Swagger Scoop right in your inbox.

By checking this box, you confirm that you have read and are agreeing to our terms of use regarding the storage of the data submitted through this form.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *